Brett Eisenberg

National Award Winner

In an interesting parallel of two lives, Brett Eisenberg has been selected to receive the 2008 Paul Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award.  The award is given to an “emerging leader” who has demonstrated leadership qualities in his/her personal and/or professional life, and who is just starting to be recognized at a local, regional or national level.

Paul Hearne was a tireless advocate for the disabled, who as director of the National Council on Disability helped draft and push for the Americans with Disabilities Act.  He also helped found the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).  The Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award was established in 1999 as a way to honor the memory of Paul, and to help realize his goal of identifying and supporting emerging leaders with disabilities.

Mr. Hearn should be happy with this year’s selection.  Brett Eisenberg not only encompasses the necessary qualities for this award, like Mr. Hearne, his accomplishments have been against the backdrop of an OI diagnosis.  Both New York natives, they also attended the same school, formerly the Human Resources Center, now called the Henry Viscardi School located in Albertson, NY.  While Mr. Hearne relocated to the nation’s capital to champion disability rights in the corridors of power, Brett returned to New York from a temporary relocation to Florida and has been working to influence the corporate world to hire people with disabilities.

Upon learning of his selection, Brett was beyond excited.  Although he didn’t know Paul (Brett is 26 and Paul died in 1998 at the age of 48), he has many contacts who were good friends with him and has learned much about the man through them.  “Knowing that Paul had OI and went to the same school I did and worked with similar organizations really made this even more personal for me.  Having my name in the same sentence as someone like Paul Hearne who is legendary in the disability movement is amazing.  Actually getting (the award) made me so proud and honored especially knowing how much support I had from people who were close to Paul”.

Brett grew up in the Bronx.  As an only child, his earliest memories are happy ones and he recalls a determination that painful injuries wouldn’t change a happy disposition.  He credits his parents with his strength and independent spirit.  Watching his father overcome his own struggles was an example and model for dealing with adversity.  “There could be no better role model then my father, although faced with his own struggles he has always overcome them and always put his family first.”  His mother was very determined that Brett develop into an independent person and he states that “by helping me become independent she gave me strength and determination needed to overcome any obstacle.”  Brett is most grateful to his parents for always being available when he needed them and despite their own differences (they separated when he was 10) they “really made sure that I was taken care of and worked together to get the job done”.

At the age of five, Brett boarded the bus for the 45 minute ride to the school where he would remain through graduation from high school.  It was here that he found lasting friendships, teachers who encouraged and believed in him, an internship that became a springboard for his present employment, and where he met his wife Christina, also a Viscardi student. 

Brett attended college in New York and Florida, earning a BS in accounting, with a concentration in management.  Currently, he is a Disability Coordinator at American International Group (AIG) in Manhattan.  He leads the organization’s disability initiative programs and has created programs that serve both AIG and the disability community. “The most rewarding part of my job is when I am able to find employment for a person with a disability”.  When asked if and how OI has affected his choice of career, Brett responded that “it has certainly had an impact as I would never had the opportunity to do what I do if it wasn’t for having the experiences I have had because of my OI.”

Beyond his work with AIG, Brett contributes his time to five Business Advisory Councils, including Abilities, Inc., Just One Break, Inc. (JOB), and Fedcap.  Brett is also the founder of the OI Network group in New York City, and this year hosted a reception featuring a panel discussion with Dr. Jay Shapiro of the OI clinic at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD.

When asked to participate in this profile, Brett kindly responded to the following:

What techniques did you develop to cope with OI as a child, student and now?  “In general I have never let OI stop me from achieving what I want to do in life.  I firmly believe that life is all about living out your dreams and not letting anything come in your way.  If I had to name a technique or characteristic that has gotten me through, I would say determination.  I am so determined to reach my goals I never let bumps in the road get in the way”

What do you do so you can live independently?  “To live independently I have learned to adapt and to be patient.  Most importantly I have learned how to think outside the box and be creative in solving problems so that I can be more independent.  Something I have learned that is important is also not to be ashamed to ask for help when you really need it.  The key however is to only ask when it is necessary.”

Is there something you want to tell teens or other adults who have OI?  “Don’t ever let OI stand in your way of what you want to do.  It is so important to believe in yourself and your abilities.  Although we might get many setbacks in life they make you a stronger person.  I am still a young guy and I have had over seventy broken bones and over a dozen surgeries and I would never change any of it.  Everything that has happened to me has made me into who I am today.  As long as you believe in yourself and your abilities you can overcome any obstacle in your way.  I know that in bad times it is easy to get discouraged but if you stay focused on what you want in the end you will be able to overcome anything”.

With an attitude like this, it is no surprise that Brett has been chosen for this prestigious award.  While clearly successful in his professional life, Brett is most proud of the life that he and his wife Christina are creating for each other and for their future family.  Though the award presentation at the March 2008 Leadership Gala in DC will surely be a high point, it probably won’t eclipse Brett’s wedding day as the happiest day of his life.


SIDEBAR INSERT

Selection Criteria for the Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award:

  • Leadership achievements that show a positive impact on the broad community of people with disabilities or within their area of disability interest.
  • Connections they have made between individuals with disabilities and others in their communities.
  • A positive vision for the disability community and a continuing commitment to their leadership activities.
  • The demonstrated ability to collaborate with other leaders, to follow when necessary, and to cultivate new leaders within their organizations and communities.
  • Potential to contribute at a national level.

 

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